So, anyone following my FB timeline knows I am obsessed with deer, and learning somewhat more about them as I feed the locals a little, hoping to both fatten them up for the coming winter, and also luring them close so they stand a better chance of not being shot. Most of the deer I have here are does, and all but one have fawns, one doe has twins. I love these animals with a depth that words fail to describe; I’m not enough of a poet to avoid sentimentality when I write, but fortunately many others are. Lately I’m reading Richard Nelson’s moving and also challenging classic “Heart and Blood: Living with Deer in America”…and he is able to capture so much of what I feel. I hope to read much more on deer and learn by direct experience, but right now, I am just chewing on this book, reading a passage or two,a few pages at a time, and using those words as guidance, insight, even lectio divina; for a nature spirit such as myself, it’s often holy writ to me, poetry like Mary Oliver and Gary Snyder, writers like Annie Dillard and Linda Hogan, speak to my heart so powerfully. But last night, just before I slept, I happened on a few pages describing the severe suffering of deer in winter – some of it caused by humans, as in the doe who became entangled in barbed wire fence and hung there, literally helpless, till she died; much more however was nature at work, and the suffering is extreme. It was horrible for Nelson to come upon carcass after carcass, fawns frozen into the lake, barely alive young ones curled desperately against the frozen bodies of adults. It broke his heart to see, and it broke mine to read. We err whenever we see nature as all benevolent and perfect; tempting as it is to do so, if we truly wish to know Her, we need to know both faces, the light and the dark, the beauty and the anguish.
I slept uneasily, thinking of what lies ahead for my small herd of sweetness.
And I woke up thinking, it’s not a good thing to dwell on the sorrow, either. Choosing the Beauty is not repressive if it is informed by a knowledge of the fuller picture.
So today I will focus on what I love about deer, starting with their beauty.
“Slowly . . . slowly, I lift my binoculars, and she fills up the field of view. Her coat is light reddish tan. I can pick out every long, coarse summer hair on her flank and the remnants of winter fur that haven’t shaken free. I can see the rise and fall of her ribs, the thin white fur and ripe bulge of her belly, the graceful arch of her neck, the angular shape of her hindquarters, the sculpted muscle and sinew of her legs. I can see the shaggy, white fringe of her tail, and the sooty fur on its tip for which the black-tailed deer is named. I can see the pale white markings beneath her chin, the gray fur and translucent skin of her enormous funnel-ears. And when she turns I can see her slender, elongated face, the conspicuous dark patch on her forehead, the twitching of her muzzle, the brightness of her great, shining eyes.
She leans down to graze, nuzzling back and forth amid the starbursts of yellow daisies, the violet blush of laurel, the snowy clusters of bog orchids, the leathery green of Labrador tea, the delicate dancing blades of grass. So exquisite is she–like a rose petal on a sheet of jade–that it takes a supreme act of self-control to keep myself from jumping up and shouting aloud.”
Richard Nelson, Heart and Blood
And this is true for me as well. No matter how many times I look out the back windows and see one there, often staring hopefully toward the carport door from which I emerge bearing fruit and pellets – no matter how often, I am thrilled in my soul, with a sense of joy and privilege, humility and happiness. It is this love that sustains me when I face the difficult task of learning more and going deeper into the reality of life in the natural world. It is not repression to focus on the Beauty, it’s a tool for rescuing oneself from an abyss of pain. It’s an act of hope, perhaps even radical hope. And so I trundle out in the frosty dawn to toss apples and scatter a little feed, humming to them, reaching to them but not holding on at all. It’s this hope that carries me along and makes me better, whether it is crazy or not. The grace and beauty of the wild is ours to witness and cherish, ours to immerse in as we can, in tiny bites or full commitment, but not ours to own or exploit. And it’s the harshness of the wild that reinforces gratitude for the technology we have that keeps us warm and offers relief from suffering, reminds us that all is in fact not terrible with “civilized” life. As always, it’s about the balance.
Touch them lightly, for their wildness is who they are. And once tamed, they cannot be untamed. Leave them with their pure nature intact. That is what I tell myself every day. Be grateful for how they have touched your heart, and be respectful of who they truly are.
They are Wildness incarnate.
They are Beauty…and this world needs as much of that as it can get.